The Running Bum Trains and Races While Living a Minimalist Vanlife on the Road

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: Christian Pondella

My name is Morgan Sjogren, but most friends call me Mo. I’m originally from Riverside, CA (SoCal) but most recently the Eastern Sierras before hitting the road in February to explore the South West. I’m currently in Eastern Utah/Western Colorado/Northern Arizona–basically wherever the wind blows me in this region. I live out of my Jeep Wrangler, which makes this nomadic life possible in addition to my work as a freelance writer.

My current project is writing “The Best Hikes Of Bears Ears National Monument” guidebook. It requires covering hundreds of miles of rough desert terrain in about a one month span, writing the book itself, taking all photos and creating the maps. Basically, a dream job for an endurance athlete with a constant addiction to adventure and drive to explore.

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: Andrew Burr

How and why did you get into running?

I started running when I was 9 with my Mom. I always loved trying new sports, still do, and after roller hockey, tennis and rock climbing, I felt like trail running would be a fun new challenge. To prepare, we ran and walked, mostly walked, between light posts in our neighborhood.

We ran our first 5k trail race together and it hurt like hell. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was already thinking about doing it again and going even faster. Running has been my main focus ever since. I was a scholarship athlete/All-American in college (10,000 meters), then ran professional track for Mammoth Track Club and Puma before migrating back to trail running last year. I constantly am trying and learning new mountain pursuits especially climbing (ice, sport, trad), ice skating, skiing, and rafting.

Runner Morgan Sjogren

How do you train and become better at running?

I have had many coaches over the years and they have been instrumental in me learning more about the sport, my abilities and training. Probably the most pivotal thing I’ve learned is to take enough rest. Anyone can hammer them self in the ground, but having confidence to rest and take it easy is where the biggest gains are made. Scott Johnston of Uphill Athlete did a great job reminding me about this over the summer.

Currently, I am not being coached because of the nature of my job “Guidebooking” in Bears Ears. I rarely have service to communicate with anyone, my runs are often dictated by the weather and I have no clue whether a route will take two hours or 10. For now, I’m just going with the flow and enjoying my running as a means to explore and resting up after really big days.

Why is running important for you?

Running is something at this point that I cannot imagine my life without. It’s not that running is my identity, it’s just such a natural part of my day. It’s my favorite vehicle to see the world around me, how I can easily play outside in the most beautiful places, a competitive outlet when I go to races, a way to use pent up energy, meditation in motion and the place I gather my best thoughts for writing. At the end of the day, running sets me free.

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: @happyjubilee (Instagram)

How do you prepare for events/races?

Running consistently is the biggest thing you can do to prepare. If I pick a race far in advance, I plan out some training to improve fitness and get ready for specific conditions (hills, heat, altitude, etc). Often I spontaneously just pick a race and go. I’m always out running and staying fit doing general adventuring. I find that makes me happiest, fittest and most race-ready at this stage in my running career. This is very different from my structured life as a track runner. For now, preparation and racing are about fun, experience and testing my personal limits in new and exciting ways (ex. trying mountain running and ultras this year).

I do a series of core exercise, mobility and activation exercises to keep my body functioning properly and injury-free. I often carry a backpack with water and supplies and a camera, which naturally makes me stronger.

Books–Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac–both are focused on two of my favorite places in the world to run (Utah Desert and Eastern Sierras). The wild places I can get to via running are what motivate me most, so therefore these are my favorite running books.

I’m not a gear head at all, I don’t often wear a watch even. I like to bring a camera (iphone or Nikon 1 AW1), water with electrolytes added, snacks like NuttZo nut butter, Field Trip Jerky, Gu products and mostly real food like pop tarts, burritos and chocolate frosting sandwiches. Sometimes I bring a beer. Again, the added weight just makes you stronger.

Clothes are simple–a comfy pair of shorts, good sports bra if you’re a lady (Handful Bras are amazing), wicking socks. Try on lots of shoes at a running store and see what feels the most comfy. I love LaSportiva Bushidos!

On planning, I either get invited by race directors or seek out the best competitive opportunities (like the US Trail and Mountain Running Champs). I’m actually en route to a race I decided to jump in last minute. Honestly, I just go with my gut and what sounds exciting. Sometimes that’s advance planning, other times totally random and for big chunks of the year, I just don’t race and focus on training/running for fun.

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: @happyjubilee (Instagram)

What are the hardest parts of running?

Being tired when everything is a mess IS what separates really good runners from everyone else. I would almost argue that this IS the point of running, or at least racing. Although, there are many, many other reasons. I expect a variety of challenges on every serious run/race, both known and unforeseen, and relish the opportunity to work through them. Danger is a reality of more explorative/adventure running like what I’m doing in Bears Ears. Samples include: limited water, heat, flash floods, getting lost, wildlife, cacti and plenty of things I’m about to discover.

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

Thankfully, I do not often get injured. When things do pop up, I rest right away, put ice on affected areas and focus on other areas of my life.

Runner Morgan Sjogren

How do you eat and sleep?

Probably the same way you do. I put food in my mouth and chew it then swallow. I lay down and close my eyes. I don’t follow a specific diet. Not at all. I’m a food opportunist. I do eat a lot of burritos. I promise my mom that I eat veggies often–sometimes I don’t. I drink plenty of water. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Runner’s World interviewed me about this.

Ideally, I sleep 8-10 hours a night, more if I’m at higher elevations. Sleep is where you recover. My sleeping varies and I’m not much for tracking.

My whole life is travel. The real questions is how do I handle being in one place for long durations? Not very well. I haven’t stayed put for more than a 3-week stretch in over a year. To keep my body/mind in shape, I do meditation. I take Liquid Iron. That’s it, to prevent anemia.

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: Jamil Coury

How do you balance normal life with running?

Running is a part of my normal life. I make sure my running gets done just like anything else.

What kind of running shoes and clothes do you use?

LaSportiva graciously sends me amazing shoes. I have a gaggle of clothes from Patagonia after doing some photo shoot/adventures for them in the Alps and Utah. I change shoes every 300-500 miles.

How do you bring things with you?

Everything I own, which isn’t much, just goes in the Jeep in a series of backpacks. I always wish I had less stuff and more space. Less is more. I like living a simple life.

Runner Morgan Sjogren
Photo credit: Andrew Burr

What inspired you to write your book?

I was approached to write The Best Hikes of Bears Ears National Monument while I was working on two other stories about the area. Honestly, I committed to the project because I wanted to stay in Bears Ears longer and explore as much as possible. It’s a pretty big undertaking but also a privilege to immerse myself in such a beautiful wild place for an extended period of time. I’ve also always wanted to write a book and this was a great opportunity to jump into it.

What is your best advice for aspiring and experienced runners?

Just go run! Get fitted at a specialty running store for a good pair of shoes and then get your butt out the front door.

Runner Morgan Sjogren

What will the future bring?

Mud, dangerous trails, deep canyons, long runs, sleeping in trees, more burritos, and unforeseen adventure around every turn. But really, who the heck knows. I wake up each day completely open to possibility. Whatever it is, I do hope it involves adventure, travel, photography and writing. I don’t daydream too much about the future because I am seriously living my dreams right now. The present is awesome!

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One Comment

  1. Great article on Mo!! I love hearing about her and all of her adventures.

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